External Relations

Egypt Table of Contents

The first move of the Arabs after the June 1967 War was to hold a summit conference in Khartoum in September 1967. At that meeting, Nasser and Faisal came to an agreement: Nasser would stop his attempts to destabilize the Saudi regime, and in return Saudi Arabia would give Egypt the financial aid needed to rebuild its army and retake the territory lost to Israel. At the conference, the Arab leaders were united in their opposition to Israel and proclaimed what became known as "the three no's" of the Khartoum summit: no peace with Israel, no negotiations, no recognition.

At the UN in November, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 242, which provided a framework for settlement of the June 1967 War. This resolution, still not implemented in 1990, declared that the acquisition of territory by force was unacceptable. The resolution called for Israel to withdraw "from territories occupied in the recent conflict," for the termination of the state of belligerency, and for the right of all states in the area "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries." Freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area was to be guaranteed, and a just settlement of the "refugee" problem was to be attained.

Gunnar Jarring, a Swedish diplomat at the UN, started a series of journeys in the Middle East in an attempt to bring both sides together. In May 1968, Egypt agreed to accept the resolution if Israel agreed to evacuate all occupied areas. By accepting the resolution, Egypt for the first time implicitly recognized the existence--and the right to continued existence-- of Israel. In return Egypt gained a UN commitment to the restoration of Sinai. The PLO rejected the resolution because it referred to the Palestinians only as "refugees" and thus appeared to dismiss Palestinian demands for self-determination and national rights. Syria characterized the plan as a "sellout" of Arafat and the PLO. The disagreement on that issue was compounded when, throughout 1969, tensions grew between the Lebanese government and Palestinian groups within Lebanon's borders, and serious clashes broke out. Syria condemned Lebanese action. Nasser invited both parties to Cairo, and an agreement was negotiated in November 1969 to end the hostilities.

Israel rejected Jarring's mission as meaningless, insisting that negotiations should precede any evacuation. Israel also objected to Nasser's support for the PLO, whose objective at the time was the establishment of a secular state in all "liberated" Palestinian territory. Nasser replied that if Israel refused to support Resolution 242 while Egypt accepted it, he had no choice "but to support courageous resistance fighters who want to liberate their land."

The mutual frustration led to the outbreak of the so-called War of Attrition from March 1969 to August 1970. Hoping to use Egypt's superiority in artillery to cause unacceptable casualties to Israeli forces dug in along the canal, Nasser ordered Egyptian guns to begin a steady pounding of the Israeli positions. Israel responded by constructing the Bar-Lev Line, a series of fortifications along the canal, and by using the one weapon in which it had absolute superiority, its air force, to silence the Egyptian artillery. Having accomplished this with minimal aircraft losses, Israel embarked on a series of deep penetration raids into the heartland of Egypt with its newly acquired American-made Phantom bombers. By January 1970, Israeli planes were flying at will over eastern Egypt.

To remedy this politically intolerable situation, Nasser flew to Moscow and asked the Soviet Union to establish an air defense system manned by Soviet pilots and antiaircraft forces protected by Soviet troops. To obtain Soviet aid, Nasser had to grant the Soviet Union control over a number of Egyptian airfields as well as operational control over a large portion of the Egyptian army. The Soviet Union sent between 10,000 and 15,000 Soviet troops and advisers to Egypt, and Soviet pilots flew combat missions. A screen of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) was set up, and Soviet pilots joined Egyptian ones in patrolling Egyptian air space.

After the June 1967 War, the Soviet Union poured aid into Egypt to replace lost military equipment and rebuild the armed forces. However, by sending troops and advisers to Egypt and pilots to fly combat missions, the Soviet Union took a calculated risk of possible superpower confrontation over the Middle East. This added risk occurred because the United States under the Nixon administration was supplying Israel with military aid and regarded Israel as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the area.

Many plans for peace were formulated and rejected, but on June 25, 1970, the Rogers Plan, put forth by United States secretary of state William Rogers, started a dialogue that eventually led to the long-awaited cease-fire in the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal. Basically, the plan was a modification of Resolution 242. Shortly after the plan was announced, from June 29 to July 17, Nasser visited Moscow. Discussions were held on the Rogers Plan, a newly formed Moscow peace plan, and the future of Soviet-Egyptian relations.

After his return to Egypt, Nasser declared a major policy shift based on his assertion that Egypt must be respected for doing what it could on its own because the other Arab states were not prepared to wage war with Israel. This policy shift set the stage for Egypt's acceptance of the Rogers Plan in July, to the surprise of Israel and the consternation of many Arab states that feared Egypt would sign a separate peace agreement with Israel. Jordan, however, followed Egypt's lead and accepted the plan. Israel accepted the plan in August.

Egyptian-Israeli fighting halted along the Suez Canal on August 7, 1970, in accordance with the first phase of the plan, and a ninety-day truce began. Palestinian guerrilla groups in opposition to the cease-fire continued to engage in small-scale actions on the Jordanian-Syrian-Lebanese fronts.

PLO leader Arafat's open criticism of the parties accepting the truce led Nasser to close down the Voice of Palestine radio station in Cairo and to terminate most of the material support Egypt provided to the PLO. In addition, many PLO activists were expelled from Egypt. Within a month, the guerrillas had effectively undermined progress on the Rogers Plan by a series of acts, including the hijacking of five international airplanes in early September 1970, thus triggering the Jordanian civil war that month.

King Hussein launched a major Jordanian military drive against the Jordan-based Palestinian guerrilla groups on September 14, partly out of fear that their attacks on Israel would sabotage the truce, but primarily because the guerrillas were becoming powerful enough to challenge his government. Nasser's position on these events, as in the preceding year when hostilities broke out between the Palestinians and Lebanese, was based on a desire to stop any form of intra-Arab conflict. He was extremely angry when Syria sent an armored force into Jordan to support the guerrillas. The United States and Israel offered assistance to the beleaguered King Hussein.

Nasser called for a meeting in Cairo to stop the civil war. The Arab summit finally came about on September 26 after bloody military engagements in which Jordan decisively repulsed the Syrians and seemed to be defeating the PLO, although PLO forces were not pushed out of Jordan until July 1971. On September 27, 1970, Hussein and Arafat agreed to a fourteen-point cease-fire under Nasser's mediation, officially ending the war.

The effort by Nasser to bring about this unlikely reconciliation between two bitter enemies was enormous. He was by then a tired and sick man. He had been suffering from diabetes since 1958 and from arteriosclerosis of the leg. He had treatment in the Soviet Union, and his doctors had warned him to avoid physical and emotional strain. He had ignored their advice and suffered a heart attack in September 1969. The strain of the summit was too much. He felt ill at the airport on September 28 when bidding good-bye to Arab leaders and returned home to bed. He had another heart attack and died that afternoon.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress